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City Seeks To Use Stimulus Funds To Preserve King Records, Create Sculpture Park

Cory Sharber
Local leaders spoke on the proposed stimulus fund allocations that could go toward creating a sculpture park and King Records building improvements.

Cincinnati plans to develop a sculpture park that celebrates the legacy of Cincinnati's African American trailblazers using money from the $290 million in stimulus funds it is receiving from the federal government. Funds may also go toward restoring the King Records building in Evanston.

However, City Council still has to approve these allocations.

Mayor John Cranley has been promoting such plans for the city's stimulus funds over recent days, which includes balancing this year's budget.

At least $3 million is being recommended to kick off designing the sculpture park, which was referred to as the "Gateway to Freedom Park." Mayor John Cranley says the park will look toward the Roebling Suspension Bridge.

Credit Cory Sharber / WVXU
Hamilton County Commissioner Alicia Reece speaking at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on Mar. 29, 2021.

Hamilton County Commissioner Alicia Reece says Cincinnati is the place where her ancestors achieved freedom and it's important that's not forgotten.

"One of the things that we have to make sure as we are doing these kind of things, that we capture that history so that young people that are growing up of all races can see and understand the diversity, the hard work, the overcoming of obstacles that African Americans have made in this city," Reece said.

The park would include outdoor, weather-resistant art exhibits. The park's design could also include closing a street within The Banks.

King Records

At least $2 million in stimulus could go to King Records building improvements.

King Records was in operation from 1943 through the early 1970s. Many notable musicians released records through the label, including James Brown, Bootsy Collins and Freddie King.

Credit Cory Sharber / WVXU
Otis Williams, pictured on Mar. 29, 2021, recorded for King Records back in the day with his group, The Charms.

Another notable artist with King Records was Otis Williams, who recorded with his group, The Charms. He attended Withrow High School, and says before he graduated, he had a gold record and a letter of intent to play with the Cincinnati Reds.

"My most precious memory in this lifetime is the fact that I had all the help in the world," Williams said.

His son, Kent Butts, serves as the chair of the King Records Legacy Committee. He says the label served as a precursor to many others including Stax, Sun and Motown.

"All of that had to come off the backs of somebody, and many of those artists were King Records artists," Butts said.

In 2008, the Rock Hall and Cincinnati installed a historic marker at the Evanston site. Cincinnati now owns the King buildings.

In a March 23 release, the King Records Legacy Committee announced a partnership with PromoWest Productions to commission a mural to honor the legacies of Otis Williams, Philip Paul, and Bootsy Collins for their work to help revive the historic facility. The mural, by artist Keith Neltner of Neltner Small Batch, will be installed in the OVATION King green room.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.